I have long held the belief that all clergymen, of all religions, male or female, should hold outside jobs and not be supported by their congregation.
People are always saying that clergymen spend a lot of time going to hospitals and praying over, or with, the sick and the dying. They spend a lot of time writing their weekly sermons, counseling their congregants, and studying. All of which may or may not be true but it still isn’t reason enough to be supported by their congregation.
I remember a group of us met every week in a place that was very run-down and barely affordable. We eventually decided that we should hire a clergyman and make it official. We took up funds to hire one and, although most of us were struggling to pay our own mortgage, we bought a house for our clergyman and paid the monthly mortgage on his house.
We had volunteers mowing his lawn, cleaning his house, cooking for him, and doing his laundry. It wasn’t that he wasn’t appreciative; it was more like he expected us to do those things for him.
During those years, I noticed that our clergyman played tennis every morning and other clergymen played golf several times a week. They had a lot of spare time that the rest of us did not have.
At the time, I was working sixty hours a week and going to school at night, in addition to having my own household to run. And still, I was one of the congregants who shared some of the jobs for our clergyman.
We were the ones who made the telephone calls to let members know of upcoming events and to round up volunteers to man booths for cake sales, sell raffle tickets, get store owners to contribute items for our bazaars, etc. And all this time, our clergyman found time to get out on the tennis court each morning.
It was during those years of observing various clergymen from all the different religions who were supported by their congregations, who were doing much less work than we were and who had a lot of time for recreation, that led me down the path of critical thinking about the clergy.
My conclusions were that most of us visited hospitals to comfort the sick and the dying and we weren’t paid to do it. Clergymen accept donations for saying prayers and delivering eulogies at funerals. They call it donations but it’s really an expected fee.
But I once knew a woman who was a professional mourner although she did it without collecting a cent. Every day she would read the obituaries in the newspaper and go to whatever funerals were scheduled that day. She would sit in the pew (any religion) and cry and wail as though she were a grieving relative.
I never had the nerve to ask her if she was crying for the deceased or if she was crying for herself but it obviously filled some part of her emotional self to go to these funerals and mourn for the ones being buried.
Most of us try to help people who have problems. We counsel them, listen to their troubles, and give them hope for a better tomorrow. And most of us have had relationship experiences to draw from when people come to us with their problems. The same can’t be said about many clergymen who counsel their congregants about their marriage difficulties without ever having been married or without having to experience their own intimacy issues.
Many of us have spent some of our lives studying, even though we have had households to run and full-time jobs to go to in the morning. And this is just a part of life. There is always the thought, there, but for the grace of God, go I, and so we heed the call of human misery and do what we can to help when the need arises.
Yes, a clergyman has studied more about religion than the rest of us but he is no more spiritual than the rest of us and he has no more understanding of the nature of God than the rest of us. He isn’t a direct link to God, although many clergymen would have us believe otherwise.
We may even have studied comparative religions and metaphysics. Perhaps not as much as a clergyman but more than enough to see that clergymen have feet of clay like the rest of us. They err. They do noble things. They do immoral or illegal things. They are human and they behave as humans; no more, no less.
We have seen the sharp decline of religion. We have also seen the sharp decline of spirituality. And, no, religiosity is not the same thing as spirituality. You can be very religious and not be the least bit spiritual and you can be very spiritual and not believe in organized religion.
There is no one path to anything; there are infinite paths to everything. Somehow, I don’t think that financially supporting clergymen is the way to bring people closer to God. When I think about the myriad paths to accomplish this, I think about a path that involves a whole congregation or a whole community where everyone has a stake in the way they seek God.
Instead of a clergyman writing weekly sermons, let everyone in the congregation take a turn at delivering a sermon. They can talk about their own experiences or talk about things that are going on in the world. They can talk about faith, hope, and love. They can talk about service to mankind, charity, and prejudice. And they can tie all of these topics back to God and what it means to them to feel a connection to God.
People have always made time in their lives to visit sick people in hospitals, to take care of the elderly, the impoverished, the needy. Whenever someone is truly sick or had to bury a loved one, they are often surprised at the number of people who bring casseroles to feed their families for however long it’s needed.
When clergymen are allowed to be seen as human, and not as mini-gods, they can contribute to this community of caring while being gainfully employed elsewhere. And it’s this community of caring that is the bedrock of spirituality and every religion in the world.
If people are allowed to contribute the essence of their being to a common cause, rather than their money, we will see a return to God that has the power to unite all mankind, bound by love and forgiveness, and the knowledge that there is no such thing as only one path to enlightenment and anyone who truly desires it can achieve it.
God would not have made so many races and so many cultural differences if He thought that everyone should walk the same path and have the same beliefs. I think there must be an infinite number of paths and each of us is destined to walk one of those paths that will eventually bring us back to God.